As CEO and founder of Slough-based Goldteam Recruitment, Naveed Ahmed has gone from college dropout and pizza delivery driver to an award-winning businessman. Having started his business after being made redundant in 2002, it took over a year of hard graft, whilst also working weekends in a furniture store, before he won his first client. Today, aged 40, he puts family values, ethics and innovation at the heart of the company, is passionate about giving back to the community and is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities and ideas.
Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan to a Swiss mother and Pakistani father, Ahmed was just 15 when the family returned to England, where his parents had initially met and married. They settled in Slough, Berkshire, where he went to school, something he describes as a “culture shock”, and then on to college, before dropping out and taking on a role of delivering pizzas on a moped. Unfulfilled and unchallenged, he tried his hand at various other roles before finding his niche in the electronics sector, working for blue chip names such as Panasonic, Racal and Alcatel. His experiences as a contractor made him realise there was both a need and opportunity in the recruitment marketplace and in 2002, he set up Goldteam Recruitment, which today is one of the leading suppliers of temporary, contract and permanent staff, boasting a turnover in excess of £10 million. One of nine siblings, Ahmed is married to Sonia and the couple has four children, the youngest of whom was born last August. Staying close to his roots and his business, they live in Burnham, near his teenage home.
You talk about the culture shock of going to school in England, what was so different?
In Pakistan, it was normal for teachers to use the cane if you misbehaved, but here all the teachers gave you was 15 minutes’ detention. I had been studying for my GCSEs when we left and I had a teacher who thought every bit of sunlight was time for study, so an extra 15 minutes on the end of a day was nothing to me, not to mention the missing cane. When I started at school I was a year behind due to the lack of English language skills, but once I had grasped it, I was ahead of the class and lessons became a bit boring.
What happened next?
I went to college to do a foundation course in engineering but I had a busy brain, a short attention span and was easily distracted – I ended up in trouble a few times so I quit and went to work for Domino’s Pizza as a part-time delivery driver. By the time I moved on nine months later, I had already been promoted to assistant manager of the Slough branch. From there I went to the now defunct MFI furniture chain, where I studied for my City and Guilds qualification in CAD planning and was designing customers’ kitchens and bedrooms as well as working in sales. It was the first place I had good exposure to dealing with people from all walks of life, and that created a basis on which I would build later on.
I then went to Racal Instruments; I’d always been good with my hands and enjoyed the challenge of working in an electronics environment. Racal led me to Panasonic and eventually to Alcatel, where I worked first as a contractor and was then promoted to a permanent position. Following the tragedy of 9/11, Alcatel was forced to make over 600 redundancies, including me. My redundancy was ultimately a blessing in disguise, as it was inevitably the catalyst for starting my own business.
Well, amongst other things, I liked the idea of wearing a suit to work and missed my MFI days of doing the same! When I was a contractor, I worked with recruitment agencies as a candidate so I knew how they worked, plus I had already had a flavour of the benefits the sector could deliver, as I had employed other contractors during my time at Alcatel. I had identified the needs of candidates and the desires of clients and wanted to put my knowledge to use.
How did you get started?
I rented a small office in Hayes and for the first nine or 10 months I was making hundreds of calls without picking up a shred of business. Persistence was key and my very first breakthrough was when I finally connected with the executive housekeeper at what was then Le Meridien Hotel near Heathrow. At the time, it was the largest airport hotel in the country and we made an agreement to supply five chambermaids on a daily basis. This was just the beginning, our turnover in 2003 was £16,000 but we finished 2004 with a turnover of £786,000.
How did you pay the bills in the meantime?
MFI became my “go to” place for part-time work and to earn a living. I’d be in the Goldteam office five days a week and then every Saturday and Sunday I worked in MFI designing and selling more kitchens and bedrooms. By this time, I was married, and my wife worked as a pharmaceutical representative, so we had her salary coming in too which was very helpful.
What’s the secret of your success?
It is a crowded market, there are at least 14,000 recruitment agencies and competition is tough as customers expect much more value-added services now. To give you an example, in the food sector, where we do a lot of work, there are plenty of red tape and compliance issues – clients want to know we’ve taken steps to mitigate any risks to their business, their reputation and their brand whilst remaining cost competitive; that’s what we do best. We have put steadfast processes into place that we continuously monitor and develop and worked relentlessly to achieve and maintain many accreditations and accolades which demonstrate the importance we place on legal compliance.
Food and hospitality is the prime focus of our business at the moment, but regardless of the sector, whether you’re looking for an engineer, a waitress or a commercial director, a large majority of recruitment processes are universal and overlap.
Did you ever have any doubts?
It is human nature for doubts to plague one’s mind and of course everyone takes a wrong turn at some time. What I have though, is a determination to strive for something better and that will always be with me, not to mention the unequivocal support of my family which is priceless. Having come from outside the country and dropped out of education, I really value each achievement. Once you can see your business growing into something which is significant and substantial, the possibilities are limitless.
Who inspired you?
I draw inspiration from many things and many people, but one in particular is our father, who has always been very entrepreneurial and driven. As a nation, Pakistan’s infrastructure and economical fabric is unfortunately very poor in comparison to the UK, so people don’t often grow up thinking they will get a job or have a career. Overall, people are much more entrepreneurial as they are somewhat compelled to stand on their own two feet. When I was made redundant, my father encouraged me to use the time as an opportunity to build something for myself and my family, whilst my elder brother encouraged me to not give up and keep going.
How important is family?
Goldteam is a family-run business to the core and several of my siblings have worked with me from the outset, bringing their respective talents and dedication to the table. We are a family of highly entrepreneurial and driven individuals who want nothing more than to support each other’s endeavours in whatever way we can whilst remaining honest and upholding ethics.
My wife, who has qualified in biomedical science arena, is doing a fabulous job of creating a solid foundation for our children by instilling steadfast values and giving them after-school classes as well.
What are some of your greatest achievements?
It’s been a 12-year journey of establishing the business and there have been a number of standout events. One was that first commission, but I’d have to say overall it would be developing our own Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution after investing a lot of money, time and tears. It has become part of the very fabric of our organisation, so much so that our next plan is to commercialise its success.
One of the proudest moments was in 2013 when we won Business Technology Entrepreneur of the Year at the GB Entrepreneur Awards. To receive national recognition like that was a tremendous feat.
You are a keen supporter of community initiatives – how important is that?
As well as being a director on the Board of Slough Business Community Partnership, I’ve also recently joined the Slough Wellbeing Board and have been very involved with Mosaic in the recent past, which, among other superb initiatives directed at underprivileged kids, runs an enterprise challenge for schools.
I think it’s a great privilege to be able to give back to the community you belong to and it’s also very rewarding to help those around you. Part of me feels I do it more for myself than for others. Voluntary work allows you to remain humble and to appreciate what you have. I think everyone should find some time to do something on a voluntary basis within their own communities, because you get far more from it yourself, than what you put in.
What does the future hold?
I have a vast vision for Goldteam with much that I would like to achieve, and being entrepreneurial is probably the key. I have always held a keen interest in technology and how it evolves, and have consequently established a software and web development company based in Pakistan. I also have an enthusiastic interest in real estate – when we bought our current home, I oversaw plans to knock it down and rebuild it to the vision that we had dreamed. For me, the destination is often progressive. I have always maintained, our journey in to the future will only take us “onwards and upwards” as long as we don’t let go of our core values as individuals and as a business.
Details: www. goldteam.co.uk